Retro — Miller Soft Skis


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

What we used to call “fat” skis is worth a laugh. Back in October of 1993 we reviewed the Miller Soft in Couloir Magzine. Title of the article: “Fat Sticks for Alpine Touring.” Dimensions of the 200 cm Miller Soft ski we reviewed: 99/82/89.

That shows where skis were rapidly heading in terms of form factor, and Millers did look wide at the time.

Miller Soft, one of the first skis designed specifically for natural snow and backcountry skiing.

Miller Soft handout from a ski show in the late 1980s. This was one of the first skis designed specifically for natural snow and backcountry skiing.

Today, 82 at the waist looks like a toothpick when compared to “normal width” skis such as the Dynafit Manaslu (95 mm) and DPS Wailers (99 mm) I’ve got leaning on the wall next to my desk.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the Miller Soft is how long a run it had as a ski model. The first retail model came out around 1970 (anyone who knows the exact year?). We used them on Denali in 1973, and we were still reviewing them and enjoying them 20 years later. Though by then the “Classic Soft” was feeling a bit long in the tooth compared to planks such as the RD Helidog (91 mm).

Designer and inventor Earl Miller was a character. I used to love chatting him up at the ski shows. He always had a unique take and bucked the conventional wisdom at every turn. For example, Earl was never impressed with non-release snowboard bindings and worked for years on designing and marketing a safety snowboard binding. He loved describing the gruesome “fly swatter” foot fracture, which I’ll leave to your imagination. Let’s just say he dissuaded me from snowboarding.

Before his efforts with snowboard gear, he’d designed and marketed a much safer alternative to the leg-trap ski bindings of the 1960s. To promote his “Miller Binding” Earl sponsored the “Miller Falling Contest,” a sort of freestyle event in which participants were judged by how many whacked out falls they could take. Miller promoted the contest by stating “bring your crutches.”

Back to the Miller Soft ski. By making a ski that flexed easily and would “belly” down in soft snow, Miller was essentially making a rockered ski. It’s somewhat surprising that it took so long for skis to appear with built-in rocker, since decades ago Miller and other soft ski makers proved it would work.

The problem with skis such as Miller Soft was that in order to make the ski longitudinally soft they ended up torsionally soft as well and thus performed poorly on hardpack. The beauty of factory molded rocker is your planks can have some stiffness and beef and still be playful in powder. Hence, the amazing choices we have in skis these days.

Miller died in 2002 at age 77.

Miller bio can be found here.

Also, check out this newspaper article about Earl.

Comments

15 Responses to “Retro — Miller Soft Skis”

  1. Caleb from MT October 22nd, 2012 10:50 am

    Lou, do you think weight keeps skis from going fatter than they are now, or are skis now “fat enough” . Maybe the ski industry is just slowly pushing that line? I’m just curious, when will skis be “fat enough”. I’m pretty happy with my 100mm waist ski, but not having skied anything wider perhaps I’m missing out.

  2. gringo October 22nd, 2012 1:20 pm

    Lou, are you sure about ’93 for a Soft review?? I beliece at that time it was already in the hands of Clair Yost.
    Any history of the Miller Soft is incomplete with out a reference to the Yöstmark Mountain Noodle, the tele version of the Soft brought out by Clair Yost of Teton Valley.
    If my memory serves, Clair bought the molds from Earl when production of the Soft was stopped and Yöstmark skis was born. Clair worked on the flex and sold it as the tele specific Mountain Noodle. Variations of this ski were available at retail until ca. 2004.

    Not to take away from Earls story, just pointing out those additional generations of skis based on the same dimensions and flex.

    truly a classic.

  3. Don Gorsegner October 22nd, 2012 1:53 pm

    Lou
    I think alot of us can remember switching from a straight ski to big fat ski’s with lots of side cut. I still have a pair of bright yellow Voile Mt. Surfs in the basement, at the time it was one of the biggest ski’s on the market. I didn’t think things would get any better. I still remember the day that I rented a pair from the Glacier Ski Shop. They changed skiing for me and made powder skiing easy. They now look skinny and straight compaired to the other ski’s in my quiver, especially my Icelantic Shamans.

    Don

  4. Lou Dawson October 22nd, 2012 3:08 pm

    Gringo, thanks for adding. That’s what’s great about all you guys. And yep, the magazine with the review is 1993, I have it here. It’s the “Fat Ski Review” from October/November 1993 Couloir Magazine. October/November 1994 has the Mountain Noodle review. The Noodle was improved that year, but still a bit skinny at 96/71/84. The review says “…In fact, you can now ski the bumps, with a smile and without voiding the warranty…even alpine touring bindings are legal…”

  5. Ben October 22nd, 2012 5:35 pm

    Not sure who’s running it but there’s still a workshop with the miller name on it in Orem. I ride my bike by it all the time.

  6. RDE October 22nd, 2012 5:35 pm

    Not to date myself or anything, but I had a pair of Miller Softs in the rare blue color. Back then we didn’t call it powder snow if you could feel a base underneath or somebody had put a track in your intended line. Under those conditions a Soft was always a reverse camber early rise ski, and they were sweet! Until you tried to make your way down a packed run!

    Remember stopping on the cat track traverse back to the tram at Snowbird and watching the tips quiver for about half a minute before they finally got tired.

  7. Patrick October 22nd, 2012 11:42 pm

    I have some 1980-ish tele skis in my basement archive. They had width, shape, wax-base, and double camber. No steel edges, we’re skiing north-aspect pow right?

    Karhu proudly named the model based on the huge waist and tip dimensions. Thus it was named the Karhu 52-60. The 52mm waist and 60mm tip were a lot wider than the track skis we’d been tele-ing with.

    My 52-60s were mounted with Rottafella pin bindings and Voile plates. Comfy leather Alpha boots — so fine. Nice concept: truly light skis, bindings, and boots. That combo ramped up my technique and I was free-heeling the Valhallas and Kokanee with gusto.

  8. jim knight October 23rd, 2012 10:20 am

    My first pair of Millers were 170 cm Short Softs mounted with the (then) new Ramer bindings. Fun on soft stuff but unfun on anything hard. Fluorescent orange & blue, it was colorful ski, like Miller himself.

  9. anemic October 26th, 2012 10:46 am

    gringo, Lou, Awesome ski tales! Last spring a friend introduced me to Rick @ Yostmark and I could not believe the NEW Miller softs on the wall there (IIRC) and also the Noodles, and that’s when I learned about the Miller soft, yostmark noodle continuum. I did not realize that they dated back to 1970! Epic stuff.

  10. Lou Dawson October 26th, 2012 11:34 am

    Anemic, glad you enjoy the history stuff we get up here now and then!

  11. David Paulson January 27th, 2013 6:45 pm

    Lou,

    I just ran across your editorial piece on Miller Soft Skiis and of Earl Miller. I first skiied Miller Softs as a rental at Jackson Hole around 1967 +/-. Before the Miller Soft, there was the Head Deep Powder,l but they had gone out of production and were quite rare. I never skiied the Heads, but I am sure that the Miller Softs were an evolutionary improvement.

    I finally had the opportunity to purchase my own Miller Softs about 15 years ago from Earl. They truly are a prized possesion and have only been skiied two or three times. And every time that I have skiied them, there has always been somewone who offers to buy them.

    I think their action is superior in deep powder to the shorter skiis. Very light bottomless poweder has to be skiied with enough velocity to get any ski to plane the snow properly, and in that regard, length always gives you more stability. Thanks for the great remembrance.

  12. Richard Allen August 16th, 2013 11:00 am

    Hey Lou,

    Do you know anything about the Miller Snowbird FM Ski? They have Salomon 637 bindings.

  13. Lou Dawson August 16th, 2013 4:15 pm

    Hi Richard, I’m not familiar with the Snowbird FM… what’s the deal with it?

  14. Richard Allen August 16th, 2013 4:32 pm

    I want to put them on my site and was looking for some information.

  15. Joy Rubin August 18th, 2013 1:58 pm

    After just one day of skiing at Alta in February 1964, with our skiis which had served us well on New England slopes, we headed for Earl Miller’s shop near Provo. He outfitted my husband and me with his softest Head skiis with his release bindings. A superb combination which served us well for many years. Those skiis, bindings, and leather boots now reside at Ski Museum of Maine, Kingfield, Maine.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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